On the Strip, Drinking Not Free For All - Monday 6th of February 2006

p>CARSON CITY, Nevada If you're looking for a complimentary cocktail in a casino, forget the Strip. Your best best is in the tiny northern Nevada town of West Wendover.

Casinos in West Wendover, which sits off Interstate 80 on the edge of the Nevada-Utah border, report that 82 percent of the $10.3 million in liquor they served was comped.

In contrast, the 42 casinos on the Strip served $701.1 million worth of liquor but only 36 percent of that was poured with compliments of the house.

The state Gaming Control Board's abstract for 2005 shows that statewide casino liquor sales (complimentary drinks are included in that amount) reached $1.1 billion, or 5 percent of the total $23.1 billion in gross revenue reported last fiscal year. Gaming accounted for 49.9 percent of the total revenue collected by the casinos.

The report shows that casinos in most of the state gave away more booze than they charged for.

Frank Streshley, senior research analyst for the board, said the reason the Strip casinos collect more for alcohol than they give away is due to the cocktail lounges where people sit and are charged for beverages.

The Strip casinos still provide complimentary cocktails to those playing at slot machines or gaming tables. But in the high-end nightclubs in Strip casinos, where drinks are typically a minimum of $5 and the price for a bottle of alcohol can run into the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, the customer pays.

In addition, Streshley said the showrooms that feature stage productions are now run by companies rather than the casinos. And customers are charged for drinks there.

Bill Bible, director of the Nevada Gaming Resort Association, which includes many of the Strip clubs, said he has not examined the figures but speculated it could be for a variety of reasons. He said there may be so many attractions on the Strip that the casinos don't need the enticement of free liquor.

He said there are shops, rooms, shows and restaurants that attract tourists. The state report shows that casinos along the Strip get only 40.9 percent of their revenue from gaming, with 26.1 percent coming from rooms, 14.1 percent from food, 5.4 percent from drinks and 13.5 percent from other businesses.

Other locations that don't have as many attractions may have to use free drinks as a way to attract and keep customers. For instance, many casinos hand out free drinks for a person cashing a payroll check.

In Washoe County, the 37 major casinos reported $113.9 million worth of alcohol sold, with 58.5 percent of that in comps.

Even in other parts of Clark County, the casinos give away more than they sell. The 17 casinos in downtown Las Vegas reported $60.7 million in beverage sales 56.1 percent of it comped.

The gaming report said 70 percent of the $48.1 million worth of drinks served in Laughlin casinos was given away; 62 percent of the $52 million in alcohol on the Boulder Strip was complimentary; and 68 percent of the $109.2 million in drinks served in the rest of Clark County was free.

The only other place outside the Strip where casinos sold more liquor than they gave away was in the south Lake Tahoe area. There were $40.4 million in sales, with 50.8 percent of them paid for.

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